The Language of Politics

The U.S. administration is certainly never hesitant to say any old outlandish thing to further their aims, as hundreds of hyperbolic statements about the Global War on Terror have shown. It’s easy to overlook that the U.K. government occasionally coughs up hairballs of similar colour and texture, but a recent emission from Home Secretary John Reid deserves note:

According to The Telegraph, Reid warned that the “risk from terrorists in the Christmas period” is “very high indeed”, and that an “attempted attack over the Christmas period” is “highly likely”.

But here’s my question – what exactly is “the Christmas period”? The traditional “twelve days”? The full advent season? December? Winter? Midsummer to Yule?

A follow-up question is, are the ‘very high indeed’ and ‘highly likely’ chances of ‘risk’ and an ‘attempted attack’ elevated for the holidays? Or is this just political fear-mongering of the “we’re all going to die”, with a footnote of “someday”, variety? It certainly looks like the latter, from where I sit.

I’m not a fan of the abuse and mistreatment of the English language (nor statistics) for political purposes. In five years, there have been three major terror attacks in the West – September 11th, the Madrid train bombings, and London’s July 7th transit attacks. That’s about a 1 in 500 chance of an attack happening on any given day – 0.2% odds, if my back-of-the-napkin math is correct. Add in a half-dozen “thwarted” attempts, and you’ve roughly doubled the chances.

With those odds, what constitutes “very high indeed” odds? 0.4%? 1%? And how do you assess such odds, anyway? It’s all mealy-mouthed fear-mongering, if you ask me. Considering that no terror attacks in recent years have happened on a holiday – or even if you don’t, as I do, discount the California New Year’s plot from several years ago, about which there are virtually no confirmable details – John Reid would have been, in my opinion, more useful in warning the world about a known, confirmed danger over the holiday season, which has killed thousands in recent years, and seems “highly likely” to strike again – drunk driving.

Published in: General, History | on December 11th, 2006| Comments Off on The Language of Politics

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